🏞 October 7, 2021 - A Year With A National Park Pass - Part 3

Written By Amanda

To conclude our one year with a national park pass, we covered a few parks we were able to visit close to home.

In all we made it to 20 National Parks, 2 National Historical Parks, 1 National Memorial, and 3 National Monuments. For $80 total, a national park pass was definitely money well spent with some parks costing up to $30 per vehicle to enter.

Although we still wish we were not living during a pandemic, we are very grateful for the time we spent appreciating the beauty within our own country.

Congaree National Park - South Carolina - January 2021

We made a quick stop here while driving home from Edisto Island, SC. We never even knew there was a national park in South Carolina until Tommy received a scratch-off National Park Map for Christmas. Seeing that there was a park we had not visited so close to home, we knew we had to make a stop.

I will start off by saying I am very glad we made our visit to this park in January. Being raised in the South ourselves, we could instantly tell this swampy environment could get very humid and steamy! We also knew it was an environment where “nighthawks” (aka mosquitos) thrive! The mosquito meter located outside of the visitors center rated the presence of mosquitoes from 1 “all clear” to 6 “war zone” confirmed our suspicions.

On a nice, cool, mosquito free day, we took a 2.4 mile “hike” (which was more like a stroll due to the fact that it was an easy flat wheelchair accessible boardwalk) around The Boardwalk loop. It seems odd to describe swampland as “beautiful” but Congaree National Park is in its own special way. This floodplain forest with an abundance of water allowed several towering cypress, spanish moss, fungi, and ferns to thrive. I loved learning about the maroon settlements (communities formed by escaped slaves) that were hidden in this dense landscape. Canoeing or kayaking would be a fun way to explore more of this park. Take a southerner’s advice and go early (or go in the winter) and be armed with lots of bug spray!

Shenandoah National Park - Virginia - July 2021

We made a last minute trip to Shenandoah National Park on Tommy’s birthday weekend right before our one year national park pass was set to expire. We also had a free night at a national park hotel since the Grand Canyon Lodge cancelled on us during a previous trip. We concentrated our visit more in the middle and southern portions of the park since we had spent most of our previous visits exploring the north.

We entered the park through the Swift Run Gap Entrance and traveled north to the Big Meadows Lodge where we checked in for the evening. From there, we drove over to the Big Meadows Visitors Center and hiked down to the Dark Hollow Falls. We headed back to the Big Meadows Lodge for dinner and then enjoyed a night-time ranger program at Skyland.

The next morning, we headed south out of the park, stopping to do the Bear Fence Mountain hike. A park ranger recommended this hike to us because Evelyn loves to scramble over rocks. She said this would be great training for Old Rag one day.

Then we headed further south and did a pretty tough hike to Jones Run Falls and Doyles Falls. The 3.5 mile hike ended up being more challenging than I anticipated. Starting from the Shenandoah Parkway, the trail led straight down the mountain. What goes down … must come straight back up! Also, as the day went on, the heat and humidity increased!

We were slightly disappointed during our visit that the views were a bit hazy due to fires out west. Also, the waterfalls were pretty dry that time of year. However, taking a break from the summer heat and humidity at home was bliss! We even had to break out a sweatshirt!

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park - Appomattox, VA - July 2021

We made a quick stop here on our way home from Shenandoah National Park. The park encompasses the location of the Battle of Appomattox and The McLean House. These places are very important to American history as the site of the surrender of the Confederate army in the American Civil War. We enjoyed walking around the grounds and through the historic courthouse and McLean House. It was a great experience to share this piece of history with Evelyn.